June/July Newsletter

Creating a high-speed backbone for the Interplanetary Internet
Earlier this year, we were truly amazed watching the high-quality videos coming from the Mars’ Perseverance mission descend on Mars. NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) is the current interplanetary communications backbone that made watching these videos possible. The DSN relies on radio frequency signals and a global ground network to provide communications from Earth to the upmost distant spacecrafts (Voyager twins), in addition to the many missions being carried out across our solar system. The Deep Space Network is completed by NASA’s Near Earth Network, a series of ground stations providing support to spacecrafts closer to Earth (all the way to the Moon) and the NASA Space network, a satellite relay service that provides up to 24×7 coverage of spacecrafts near Earth such as the International Space Station (ISS), and supporting mission launches as they transit the low Earth orbit. The European Space Agency’s Estrack network also provides for deep space and near Earth capabilities, Russia, China, Japan and India also have space networks with at least certain coverage of near and deep space.

Surprisingly, the DSN was formally created in the 70’s, much before Earth’s network of networks, the Internet. At the time, data communications were not part of the day to day communications paradigms so networks were very much focused on physical (radio) and link layer (e.g. error correction and link establishment/maintenance). Because of it, the DSN as well as the space and near Earth networks have gone through major upgrades to enhance communications to adapt to digital/data communications as well as improving link and physical layer capabilities. The DSN, being a limited resource (e.g. there is only one 70 m Antenna per coverage area), is slowly becoming a bottleneck as the number of missions (and data transmission requirements) increase. It has also come to a point in which these systems have stressed out the physical characteristics of the microwave links (and coding schemes) to get the highest throughput, i.e. several Megabit per second (106 bit/sec) at Mars. This is just enough to transmit one stream of video at high definition. Now, compare this to having Gigabit (109 bit/sec) at home, and you get an idea of the data rate requirements for a settlement on the Moon or Mars. A new high-speed backbone is needed for the Interplanetary Internet!


Figure. Downlink data rate evolution, from JPL/DESCANSO Deep Space Communications Book.

NASA, other space agencies and the private sector have been working on the next steps in high-speed space communications. A major change that requires moving up from radio frequencies (with wavelengths in the centimeter order) to optical frequencies (tens to hundreds of nanometer). This would allow for higher throughput, in the order of hundreds of megabit per seconds to Mars. Many experiments and demonstrations are being built to elevate the technical readiness of the high-speed space optical network.
• In 2013, NASA successfully launched the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) which was capable of achieving 622 Megabit per second (Mbps) from the Moon.

• Later this year (2021), NASA will launch the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), a demonstration of a two way laser relay system, critical in creating a near-Earth space optical network. This is the first stepping stone in augmenting the existing radio-based TDRS (Tracking Data Relay System). The LCRD will also make use of the new Optical Ground Stations (OGS-1 in California and OGS-2 in Hawaii). Note the European Space Agency (ESA) have already made 1-way optical relay possible with their European Data Relay System (EDRS) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have completed direct link checkout with optical ground systems in preparation to provide 2-way optical inter-satellite relay services using the Japanese Data Relay System (JDRS).
• Also in 2021, NASA will launch the Terabyte Infrared Delivery (TBIRD) demonstration in low-Earth orbit that plans, via an optical link on a CubeSat, to achieve burst download speeds of 200 Gigabit per second, allowing for downloading large amount of data per day (Terabytes, hence the name).

• In 2022, NASA plans to deliver the Integrated LCRD Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) aboard the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first experimental space user of the LCRD, with the goal of achieving bit rates up to 1.2 Gigabit per second to Earth, increasing the bandwidth for research and development experiments’ data.
• Launched in 2022, JPL’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) payload will travel onboard the Psyche mission spacecraft. Starting its first year of travel (the spacecraft is expected to reach the 16 Psyche asteroid in 2026), the experiment will test optical communications over extreme distances, obtaining valuable information about pointing challenges, among others. For the ground segment, two existing telescopes are enhanced including a new Ground Laser transmitter and a receiver respectively. The goal is to achieve 10 to 100 more throughput than conventional (RF) systems using comparable size and power.
These experiments and demonstrations will lead to the use of the Orion Optical Communications System (known as O2O or Optical to Orion) in the Artemis II mission aimed for 2023. The goal of the optical communications system is to be able to support throughput over 600 Megabit per second, enough to livestream ultra high-definition (also known as 4k) video from the Moon.
As the above lines indicate, there is great research, development, experimentation and plans going on for creating a high-speed space communications backbone. And there is more to it. Enabling a high-speed network also requires better performance at the networking level. Existing Delay Tolerant Networking (DTN) implementations may not be fast-enough in processing and routing/forwarding bundles (the data), potentially becoming a bottleneck. There are already signs of this issue in the DTN implementation on the International Space Station (ISS). Researchers at NASA Glenn Research Center are working on a High-speed DTN architecture to optimize spacecraft hardware design to better accommodate for high-speed (DTN) networking.

From our group, the InterPlanetary Networking Special Interest Group (IPNSIG), we encourage you to continue gaining interest in space networking, and to contribute to our mission of realizing a functional and scalable system of interplanetary data communications: The High-Speed Interplanetary Internet!

Dr. Alberto Montilla
IPNSIG Board Member
Spatiam Corporation Founding Board Member

Announcing Strategy Working Group Report

The IPNSIG is excited to announce the release of the report, “Strategy Toward a Solar System Internet For Humanity”

IPNSIG SWG REPORT 2021-June  (Compressed): IPNSIG] SWG REPORT 2021-June

IPNSIG SWG REPORT 2021-June (High Definition): IPNSIG SWG Report (High Definition)

Assembled by the IPNSIG’s Strategy Working Group (SWG), this constitutes the first attempt to lay out a strategy toward the realization of a Solar System Internet (SSI).

In this report, and taking into account the lessons learned from the creation and deployment of the Internet, we have addressed the different challenges that will define the future of this endeavour, looking a hundred years ahead. Among them:

How to deliver a Solar System Internet? A mission to carry out such an endeavor will require the engagement of many stakeholders: governments, academia, private sector and the general public. To help address this, we’ve laid out a set of strategic principles that would guide the public-private efforts needed to deliver this collective mission, together with an overview of the involvement of the different stakeholders over time.

Related to this, how to realize an interplanetary connectivity infrastructure that will remain sustainable: neutral, open and decentralized? For which, we’ve laid out a set of key properties that would ideally be assumed by public and private stakeholders in the pursuit of an SSI.

Potential technical, operational and political challenges toward the development of an SSI are also addressed and discussed.

Altogether to present an early roadmap of recommended actions toward an SSI, and stating how the IPNSIG will contribute in the pursuit of this endeavor. Indeed, the IPNSIG will keep developing its current Working Groups, with the goal of accomplishing the roles it has envisioned.

Our final goal with this report is to help us all acknowledge, based on evidence and lessons learned, that the collective creation and development of an SSI could be possible.

Because of this, and following the release of this report, we will engage in advocacy efforts to communicate this message to relevant public and private stakeholders, in hopes to kickstart awareness about the creation of a Solar System Internet.

I am proud to march forward in this endeavor, together with the great team that we have, and with the entire IPNSIG membership.

Last but not least: this report was furnished thanks to the inputs, ideas and suggestions that you shared with us at the successful IPNSIG Strategy Workshop held in February, 2021 (https://ipnsig.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/SWG-Executive-Summary.pdf)

This quest is a collective one, and a huge thanks to your engagement and support. Let us know of any comments, feedback or further proposals to the report, if any, by emailing ipnsigswgrpt@ipnsig.org.  We welcome your voices.

Thank you.

SWG Lead and Chair of IPNSIG

Yosuke Kaneko

Reinventing Space Conference Next Week

Reinventing Space Conference 2021 kicks off in London Next Week

The British Interplanetary Society’s 18th conference will focus on the environmental and sustainability issues around space exploration – such as space debris, environmental impact of spaceports, and Earth observation, and also on the opportunity for the space industry to contribute to economic recovery following Covid-19.

For more information (and to purchase tickets) please see: https://bis-space.com/shop/product-category/event-tickets/reinventing-space-2021/

Speaker Bio for Communicating Over Extreme Distances

Dr. Don M. Boroson is a Laboratory Fellow in the Communication Systems Division of MIT Lincoln Laboratory. He has had a long career there with a focus, since the mid-1980s, on space-based laser communications systems.  He has experience in many facets of this exciting field, from mathematical analyses of phenomena and system performance, to invention of novel subsystems, to devising complete system architectures.  He has also led teams developing a wide range of relevant technologies, as well as designing, building, and fielding end-to-end systems.

Dr. Boroson was Lincoln’s lead lasercom engineer for the GeoLITE program, which, in 2001, became the world’s first successful space-based, high-rate lasercom system.  He served as the lead system engineer on NASA’s Mars Laser Communications Demonstration program, which ended up not flying because of the 2005 cancellation of the larger satellite it was to be carried on, but which devised many concepts and architectures that are now considered standard for Deep Space lasercom systems.

He was then Principal Investigator and Lincoln Program Manager for NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration which, in 2013, became the world’s first Moon-to-Earth lasercom system, and which also set a number of other records including being the first truly error-free space-to-ground laser communication system, to being the highest rate duplex Moon-to-Earth communication system of any sort, to being the world’s longest lasercom system to date.

Dr. Boroson holds undergraduate and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Princeton University.

IPNSIG Documentation Library now Available

IPNSIG is using Zotero to build a catalog of technical documentation around Delay & Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) and other Interplanetary Networking topics. Follow this link to our Zotero Library.